A change in title holder identity led to seemingly half the league reshuffling their card deck. The NBA has entered a new, unknown era of perhaps renewed parity, with many ancient truths and beliefs becoming a thing of the past.
Before we do a quick run down of the teams that had the most radical face lifts, the moves we’ve seen, some of them already orchestrated since last season (we’re looking at you LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rich Paul) have shown us contracts, loyalty and obligation means less and less – if a players wants out, he’ll get his wish.
And teams with cap issues? They can get out of cap hell. It might require sacrifice, a tear down and entering premature tank mode, but almost anyone can get it done. This offseason is not going to affect the shift of power in the NBA, from the Golden State Warriors (who are still very good, especially if Klay Thompson comes back earlier than expected) to whoever is the top dog now, but on future CBA negotiations. A disturbance in the balance of power between owners and players often means someone trying to pull it back in the other directions come new agreement time.
So which teams see themselves as title contenders?
The Los Angeles Clippers, with possibly the best two-way perimeter duo since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Kawhi and Paul George. The Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a weirdly built team, but deeper than most people thought they’d be; a team that if the defense is figured out and their two stars stay healthy, things can be very interesting.
The Utah Jazz. Deep, with the right combination of youth, experience and prime players, who’ll mostly count on Mike Conley to stay healthy, perhaps mentor Dante Exum into something worthwhile and most of all, Donovan Mitchell figuring out how to be a franchise player. The Houston Rockets, who believe that changing Chris Paul into Russell Westbrook will change everything. Now that Andre Iguodala and Tyson Chandler might join them, perhaps we can even take them more seriously.
And the last in the West, the Warriors. Is Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, D’Angelo Russell and the assortment around them enough to carry this team through a more difficult than before regular season. But if Klay Thompson bounces back nicely from his injury and does come back in March, the Warriors fear no one.
The East features contenders as well, but it won’t be the current title holders. Kawhi leaving might not have been a surprise, but it leaves the team caught in limbo, perhaps waiting to see how the season goes early on before deciding if it’s time to start moving some parts.
The Milwaukee Bucks will run it back, more or less, with Giannis Antetokounmpo hopefully showing there’s even more we haven’t seen from him. A player they will dearly miss is Malcolm Brogdon, who perhaps turns the Indiana Pacers into contenders themselves.
The Philadelphia 76ers did lose Jimmy Butler who know one can figure out what he wants, but added Al Horford and will feature an ultra big lineup, relying on the wisdom that luck and not skill stood in their way come playoff time. And the Boston Celtics? Hoping that improvement via subtraction is an actual thing, and that the Kyrie Irving effect means Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be back on track to becoming borderline superstars in this league.